Thursday, July 20, 2017

What is it like studying at the Animal Behavior Institute?

Hello Kitty Cat Friends,

As many of you know and I've stated on this blog I'm in the process of completing the Animal Behavior Institute's Feline Training & Behavior certification program. I've received a lot of questions asking what I'm specifically learning and what the learning process is like there. I decided I'd answer this question in a blog post for those who are interested just out of curiosity or might consider doing a program through them.
The Animal Behavior Institute is accredited and all professors have either doctorates or master degrees in behavior, conservation, or veterinary medicine. The Feline Training & Behavior certification program requires your completion of 3 courses (9 credits) as well as 40 hours of field work. All course work is done online. The required courses are Feline Training, Feline Behavior & Enrichment, and Feline Health & Nutrition. The entire program costs $3,555, but you can pay by the course, which is $1,185.

The Animal Behavior Institute has a quarter semester system. Each course is 10 weeks, but not every course is offered in every quarter. Currently, I'm taking Feline Training as it was the only course in my program offered in the summer quarter. Feline Behavior & Enrichment and Feline Health & Nutrition are both offered in the fall so I will take those then. That would mean I could receive my certification by December. My 40 hours of field work I'm doing obviously at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

My current course Feline Training started about a month ago. This course is taught by Dr. Chalcraft who has a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology and has done behavioral and enrichment work with cats, chimpanzees, and gorillas. The text required for this course is The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider and Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor. This is our class schedule on what we'll be studying each week and the assigned readings.
Each weekly learning module consists of assigned reading, a quiz, and a discussion post component. There are also additional suggested readings and/or videos to watch regarding that weekly topic. The weekly discussion component is my favorite aspect of the course. The discussion component is often a scenario presented by the professor where the students have to explain how they'd assess and address that situation. Then the student would have to provide feedback to another student's response. The professor then would provide feedback to the student's response asking for clarification and/or challenge the student on how they'd do something different if one of the aspects of the scenario changed. My professor copies and pastes my response and adds in her feedback/questions in a different color. Here is an example of a recent discussion scenario, my response, and my professor's feedback. You can click on the photos below to enlarge them so they're easier to read.

 What I like about this learning process is it's very applicable and you have to be a critical thinker. This isn't a course where you parrot back what a book says and you've learned the material. You have to think for yourself and use your instincts. Understanding cat behavior isn't a cut-and-dried thing. Cat behavioral issues can be very complex and you have to look at a variety of angles to identify a problem and come up with a treatment plan. This is certainly a course/program where you need to have a natural ability in understanding cats and experience working with a variety of cats to succeed.

I spend about 3-6 hours a week working on this course. There are weekly deadlines to submit discussion responses and complete quizzes, but otherwise, it's very flexible. You need to be self-driven and comfortable with independent study. So far, I'm really enjoying this learning process. I appreciate being able to see other student's perspectives and receive feedback from the professor. In just 4 weeks I've been able to expand my knowledge and apply it when working with cats at the shelter. I still have 6 more weeks of this course and 2 more courses in the fall so I know I'll be gaining so much more.

I hope this helped answer some questions and give people an idea of what a program like this is like. From what I gather, the other courses are in the same format just different material. When I start those classes in the fall I'll do posts on what the material is like in those courses.

That's all for meow 😻,

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